…and why it’s going to take every ounce of my being not to spoil it for anyone.

Yes, sorry, I’m one of those fans. I’ve read all the books. So believe me when I tell you that Game of Thrones Season 4 is something I have been waiting for since I read A Storm of Swords. You thought last season was good? Oh kids, you aint seen nothing yet.

Despite my love-hate relationship with George. R. R. Martin, I thoroughly enjoyed the final half of the third book. The pacing was fantastic, the characters were just awesome and shit got real. And not always by simply cutting the heads off a few main characters. Although, that still does happen. I guess it wouldn’t be Game of Thrones otherwise. Don’t worry, I promise I won’t spoil anything – but I will say that the third book has some of the most intriguing storyline progression since the dragons showing up.

Season 4 begins rather peacefully. Tyrion awaits the arrival of House Martel, King Joffery is prancing around like a prat, Daenerys is marching on some poor unsuspecting town with her slave army and dragons, Dario has somehow changed his face, Margery is preparing for her wedding, Sansa is crying, Jamie Lannister realises that things are a little different since he left, and Tywin is still the best contester for the Westeros Father of the Year award.

However, Tumblr and the rest of the internet have finally realised something that I have understood since book 1. That House Martel are just badass. Prince Oberyn, you handsome viper – you are everything I dreamed and more. But it was meeting the first Sand Snake, Ellaria Sand, that got me really excited. Although House Tyrell is ruled by some very cunning ladies, and House Targaryen’s last hope is on the Mother of Dragons, the Sand Snakes of Dorne are some of the most fearsome ladies in all of Westeros and beyond.

“Have you ever been with a Prince?”

obiterocelot:

Been wondering what I’ve been up to this past month?

Originally posted on :

When we talk about influential sci-fi and fantasy authors, there are a number of names that immediately come to mind. We mention Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Tolkien, Pratchett, Frank Herbert, Lewis Carol, C. S. Lewis — this list could continue infinitely. Although this realm was almost exclusively dominated by men until recently, some extra-special ladies have played a very important part in the development of our favorite genres.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818)

frank

One of the greatest horror stories of all time, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is also considered the first science fiction novel ever published. It’s about the eccentric doctor, Frankenstein, and the monster he created. Frankenstein has been adapted hundreds of times across all forms of media, and is the inspiration for countless other re-tellings and numerous other monsters following in its wake.

Everyone should have this story on their reading list, if only to learn about the many Frankenstein

View original 1,803 more words

… and why I wish it hadn’t.

a review of the Elder Scrolls Online

A few years back, I worked for the chief video-games retailer in the southern hemisphere – EB Games. The shop was situated in a low socio-economic area, and the busiest shift was Tuesday afternoon because that was when the benefits came in. Most purchases were straight out of the bargain bin, or from people who had crossed town to pick up the last copy of a new release left in the city.

Our store was also often graced with the presence of a WoW subscriber*.

*Disclaimer: this was the title we bestowed upon people who would come into EB Games and, in a rare moment of social interaction, would purchase their WoW subscriptions over the counter. Sadly, they all appeared to fit a very particular stereotype, but I am in no way suggesting that every MMO partaker is like this. Just that some of you are.

You always knew who they were. They would walk into the shop with their head down, sporting a three day old beard regardless of gender, covered in cheesy-snack dust and coke stains on t’shirts that were once white, or maybe black, but have since turned a funny sort of mouldy grey. They breathed through their mouths, and would peruse the shelves coughing and snuffling into a sleeve, before turning to the smiling teenage girl behind the counter, hoping she had been replaced by someone who looked a little more like them. And it was always me behind the counter – my supervisor had an uncanny ability to spot them as they entered, and then would find an excuse to lock himself in the backroom until they left. Only then would he break out, chasing away the stench of B.O. with pine-scented air-freshener and furiously applying hand sanitiser to anything that may have been contaminated, including me.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is my first impression of an MMO. It was like seeing the heroin junkie before being offered heroin. Needless to say, I’ve never touched the stuff*. However, when I was offered a key to the most recent The Elder Scrolls Online Beta I had to give it a shot. The name “Elder Scrolls” will always invoke curiosity. Bethesda could release an Elder Scrolls Dress-Up Game and I’d play it**.

*MMOs that is. Oh, and heroin. And I’ve never really been a big fan of fizzy drinks.

** Who wouldn’t?

So, I created my character. I spent an hour oohing and aahing about how pretty I could make them, and trying to decide exactly what sort of character I wanted to play, before rapidly devolving into my favourite default – High Elf who likes to blow stuff up with Fireball. I spent many fond hours on Skyrim furiously back-peddling, necking health potions while I wanted for my mana to regenerate, and I thought I could recreate the experience. They didn’t skimp on character creation either. It’s just as involved as it always has been, with the same races we all know and love. Or hate. I could even cover my High Elf in pretty filigree tattoos, but I was disappointed that I couldn’t make them glow blue like Cortana.

Eventually, I started the game and – oh look, we’re in a dungeon*. Oh look, I’m a prisoner. Oh look, at the dark, morbid scenery. Oh look, wait, what is Dumbledore doing here? See, the problem with using a voice actor with as prolific and distinctive a voice as Michael Gambon, is that people will immediately spot it, and then can’t get the thought out of their head that they have crossed into a completely different fandom and they’ll soon run into Harry Potter playing Quidditch. It sort of takes away the severity of the situation.

*Spoilers.

As soon as I was free from captivity, the first thing I did – like every other Elder Scrolls game I have ever played – was to attempt to loot every single body and chest I could find in the immediate area. Imagine the disappointment when I discovered that I was only able to loot very specific dead bodies, and it was never clear exactly what dead bodies I was able to loot. The same went for chests and – to my utter dismay – flowers. What is Elder Scrolls without the ability to skip through the country-side, ripping wings off butterflies, snatching fish out of the water, and generally sucking the area dry until there is not a single bud in bloom? Where is the immersion without the ability to shove every little piece of worthless crap in my seemingly bottomless backpack until, through some great feet of Tamriel physics, I’m hording over a hundred bottles of potions and fifty cast-iron kettles? How dare they take it away from me!

Feeling a little despondent, I manage through the dungeon and immediately look up. After the spectacle of the Skyrim night sky, I was almost expecting some sort of laser-light show that caused an epileptic seizure. Something with meteors and comets and exploding stars and maybe even one of those rainbow glitter curtains. Instead I was only greeted with a boring smudge of cloud. Even the sea looked a little lack-lustre, lazily lapping at the sand like it couldn’t give a damn. Likewise, the music was instantly forgettable. This year, YouTube will not be filled with renditions of the ESO soundtrack. It’s just back to looking at cats.

I was beginning to accept that all the little things that I loved from the Elder Scrolls were going to be snatched away from me. So I focused on the bigger picture – but unfortunately I was only met with a bigger disappointment. Was I enjoying this game? The answer was a very clear no. I found the game-play repetitive, the graphics were not awe-inspiring, the dialogue was skippable, and the controls felt a little wooden. Granted, it’s a Beta – I shouldn’t be expecting perfection – but after the outstanding success of Skyrim, I did expect something that would leave me anticipating the final release. The storyline is very playable, but I can’t help but feel it’s been wasted in this context.

Perhaps, I wondered, it is because I am not an MMO fan. This is a very different game genre to what I’m used to – and I shouldn’t expect the same experience as Skyrim and Morrowind. But when I asked those who do play World of Warcraft, or any of the other popular communities, they all said pretty much the same thing.

“meh.”

It’s not awful, it’s just not really that great. Unfortunately, being ‘not great’ in an online context will be a death sentence. With World of Warcraft still taking 50% of the genre’s subscribers, Bethesda needed something spectacular to bring in the crowds that would make them the money. This venture was always going to be a risk, but the community generally had faith. If any license could get away with it, it would be the Elder Scrolls. And I so want it to be true. However, it’s not true for me.

Instead I now have to wait patiently for their next big project. As much as I’d love the next Skyrim, I think it’s about damn time for Fallout 4.

The trailer was pretty wicked though…

 

Sorry, no blog post today. My Aida cloth arrived and I spent all day getting started on this:

 

Exploding Tardis Cross-stitch. For Nerd-Craft glory. May post updates of progress if I feel so inclined.

 

… but why I hope they’ll get there.

A review of Starbound

From some of the makers of the incredibly popular Terraria, comes Starbound – often referred to as Terraria‘s spiritual sequel. A space sandbox game, where you can dig and build and craft to your hearts content, create beautiful structures, discover lost caves, fight off huge monsters, or cut down a lot of trees.

Like Terraria, there is a very Minecraft-like element to it – you dig, and you build. Fortunately, there is less of an emphasis on digging this time, and more on exploring. You don’t necessarily have to ever pick up a pick-axe and go underground – many of the materials you’ll need can be found on the surface. But, of course, there are many adventures to be had underground. Where Terraria caught a lot of bad-press for being essentially a 2D Minecraft, it is a much harder to give Starbound such a label, but as a creative sandbox game, it is difficult not to compare it with the giant of the market.

Starbound is huge. You are not confined to a single planet, but once you refuel you can tackle galaxies. You can harvest material from across the universe, touch down on a beautiful, fresh planet and essentially turn it into your own personal canvas. And the number of materials and items that can be found and created is massive, despite the constrains of blocky 16-bit-style graphics. It greatly extends that of it’s predecessor, and could have the potential to extend that of Minecraft. This is a game where I could potentially clock in weeks of gameplay.

However – and it is a very big however – it is still only potential. It isn’t quite there yet. After Terraria, the controls feel blocky and unresponsive and the mechanics do not feel nearly as intuitive as that of other sandboxes. If you continue to compare the game to Terraria, it doesn’t have the same sense of direction, and often one can feel lost as to how to proceed. The balance hasn’t quite been found between a sense of exploring and an approachable world. Not to mention the difficulty level. With overly powerful monsters that attack you during the day, coupled with food issues, and even the possibility of freezing to death  - it all adds up into a very high likelihood that you won’t survive the first night. And, as it is beta, there are heaps of bugs. Servers constantly crash, the game takes forever to load and I think it’s trying to burn my computer out in an attempt to run. Not to mention (but then you should expect this from a beta) occasionally arriving to play the game, only to find your character has been deleted in the last update.

For now, stick to Minecraft, but perhaps in a few years the game will have balanced into something that might even compete with Notch. In the meantime it will be interesting to see how they progress, and if they manage to remain on the correct path.

… and why there seems to be a sim for everything nowadays.

a review of Cook, Serve, Delicious.

This is far from being the first cooking simulation I’ve played.

They’re usually pattern orientated, brightly coloured, and circle around the key game mechanic of time management. Can you get all the orders out perfectly, without pressing the wrong button, and before the customers get angry? Probably. The harder versions of these titles sometimes come with a problem-solving element, but most of them really cater to small children, or the ‘casual gamer’.

Purchased after watching Nilsey’s play through over at the Yogscast. As entertaining as we can expect from our favourite gaming Scot.

Cook, Serve, Delicious is an indie restaurant simulator where you have to cook and prepare food in a certain way to please your customers, and at a pace before they walk out. You earn money when they buy their food, which you spend on various upgrades and additions to your menu. An ‘element of difficulty’ is added with various chores, and the occasional robbery, but it’s pretty simple to play.

It almost feels like a typing game when you really get going. You can use the mouse, but it hardly feels the same as the soothing rhythm that switches your brain off (same sensation as watching soap operas) after a day sitting behind a desk doing the same sort of repetitive task you’re doing now. Because, unfortunately that’s what the game seems to simulate more closely. From I’ve deduced by listening to many good friends complain about their jobs in hospitality (and from what I hear, the complaints are always justified. I wouldn’t know, I had a ‘cooshy’ job in retail) hospo is rarely dull and repetitive. Usually it falls under the category of stressful and frustrating. The closest this game comes to stress is during ‘rush hour’, where you just have to press even more buttons in a short time. At least the colour pallet is inkeeping with the job, especially in the beginning. Dull and drab, and questionably meeting safety standards.

Progression is also a little slow – you cannot really progress any faster at the start once you’ve got the hang of it. Not only are there a number of other little goals to fulfill before your restaurant gains a star, but you also have to play for a certain number of in-game days. When you started perfecting everything at day three, having about seventeen days to go just seems pointless. You want more for a challenge, damn it.

Despite all this, it’s still a neat little time-waster. Does it quite meet the standards of a good simulation? Not really, since it isn’t really accurately simulating a restaurant scene. Is it worth the $10 on steam? I’d say it’s pushing the envelope a little. My advice is to pick it up on sale. That way you won’t feel so out of pocket when you inevitably get sick of it a few days later.

… and why you should be excited.

Due to a day spent playing too much Pokemon, I can only really express my excitement for the upcoming release of Broken Age – the point-and-click adventure by Double Fine. If you were hiding under a rock when the Kickstarter shook the gaming world. These are the same people who brought you the incredibly insane (but amazing) Psychonauts and this promises to have the same colourful aesthetic and creative humour.

If you’d like to see a snippet of the gameplay before you buy, check out Hannah’s early play through of Shay and Vella – our protagonists.

… and why I had the best mother in the world.

Most of the strongest memories of my childhood involved reading. Both my father and my mother were avid readers, and as I grew older I learnt that their extensive reading list is impressively expansive. It was that one treat that mum would readily give us – a new book. My brother and I were read to every night – everything from the Little Yellow Digger to Beatrix Potter. I was really doomed from the start.

Now all my friends are having babies, and being the nerdy auntie, I see this as an excuse to revisit my childhood and corrupt their young minds with beautiful words. Here are five of my favourites to gift – but really this list could go on forever.

1. Slinky Malinki by Lynley Dodd

If you are New Zealand born, you grew up reading these wonderfully illustrated picture-books. Most starred dogs or cats and they were always in a rhythmic rhyme. Hairy McLeary was the most popular and most written about, but my personal favourite was always Slinky Malinki, the black moggy who kept pinching the neighbours stuff.


“Slinky Malinki was blacker than black
A stalking and lurking adventuring cat
He had bright yellow eyes, and a warbling wail
And a kink at the end of his very long tail.”

2. My Cat Maisie by Pamella Allen

As you may have gathered by now, I sort of liked cats. Especially stories that really personified them. See, cats were cool way before the internet. A cute story about a boy who had no friends, until Maisie arrives.

3. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

A  famous children’s book that deserves its fame. As you can imagine it is about a very hungry and very beautifully illustrated caterpillar who goes in search of food. But never really seems satisfied.

At this point you realise how poignant children’s books really are.

4. My Brown Bear Barney by Dorothy Butler

About a little girl who wouldn’t go anywhere without her Brown Bear Barney.

My brother had a Brown Bear Barney.  I didn’t. My stuffed bear was called Bessie Bear. She was soft and brown with legs that splayed out so she always lay on her belly to look at me. I think she was a sun-bear because she had the crescent moon on her chest.

5. Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter

Thought I’d end on a classic. I pity any child who’s mother didn’t read them Beatrix Potter. Nothing quite compares. Peter Rabbit is probably the go to, but I also quite like Mrs Tiggy Winkle and Jemima Puddle-Duck.

What have I left off the list. What did you guys love? Comment below!

… and why we still buy them.

Awhile back, Lionheart Studios announced Fable Anniversary, an HD remastered edition of the 2004 Xbox game Fable. It’s rumoured to incorporate achievements (of course), a re-sync of the animated lip-syncing, and a shiny new interface. It’s current release date early February (depending where you live) and has a bunch of little goodies on offer if you preorder now. All of it being completely aesthetic, of course.

But this isn’t the only game to receive the HD treatment. In terms of game mechanics, video games have changed little over the past ten years, but we have seen the wonderful change over to high-def graphics. Since, it has become common practice for the best of our childhood to see a re-visit or re-make, often with the only change being shiner and prettier pixels on the screen. Often this is merely new textures. Some companies don’t even go further than that.

Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary Edition is a good example there. You could even switch between the new and old textures in game. But doing so often made your head spin. The game did come with additional multi-player content with some fresh new maps, but they were in no way connected with the original game. I would’ve loved to have seen an HD Blood Gultch. Just for old time sake.

The Prince of Persia trilogy, God of War and Metal Gear Solid have also recently seen remakes, as have Balder’s Gate and a re-make of Munch’s Oddyssee, the sequel to the popular PlayStation title Abe’s Oddyssee is thought to also come out on PS3 later this year. Yet, no matter how much fans cry for a Final Fantasy VII remake, one will never come. Square Enix just can’t be trusted.

So it is clear that these games are selling, and it’s clear that we are buying them. But why? Often the ones purchasing the game have already played the original. Usually the re-mastered game is exactly the same as the original game with only new gimmicky textures. So why do we race to the shops and pre-order something we already played ten years ago?

Of course, the answer is nostalgia. Unfortunately, due to most consoles not having backwards capability, every ten years or so we loose our favourite iconic titles to the next generation. Ten years then pass, the old game slips into the edge of our memory, and this is the perfect moment for the publisher to unleash the re-mastered version upon the fans. Remember that game you used to really love? Well, now you can play it again, and it won’t look so ugly! It’s a whole new game! But we didn’t have to do half as much work or spend half as much money. It’s a win, win. Right?

But, of course, since then many other things have often changed. Did you ever try going back to the Halo Anniversary game after spending hours on Halo: Reach or Halo 4. Only then did I learn that over the past ten years, Microsoft and Bungi had been slowly improving those controllers until it no longer felt like you were trying to control a tank. Although it was nice to wield the original pistol again. Gosh that thing packed a punch.

Playing Assassin’s Creed after Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is exactly the same. I loved the story of Altair, so I thought it would be nice to return to an old favourite. Within two minutes I was getting frustrated because I was constantly flinging myself off buildings and alerting guards I didn’t want to alert. When the game had come out, I absolutely adored it. But so much had changed. Now it was just cumbersome compared to what I had grown used to. We remember the good, not the bad.

This won’t stop me from rushing out and buying Fable Anniversary. I will continue to revisit my childhood games with excitement and nostalgia. At least now it will be another ten years until Fable has to take its place in the lost video game vaults. Hopefully it can live up to the lofty expectations and memories I have of it.

… and why the world has moved on since then.

This year marks the 40th Anniversary of Dungeons and Dragons, the most iconic and famous table-top roll-playing game of all time. It has crept its way into our pop-culture as a symbol for ultimate nerdery, we see its influence in video games, board games and within our geek culture. It is the father to war-games, to other role-play games, and it is estimated that 20 million people have played it before. There is no other game that has reached this statute. Apart from, perhaps, Monopoly.

It took me a very long time to finally be introduced to the world of Dungeons and Dragons. Roll-playing was something I had never really considered, until it was brought up in conversation at a party. One of my friends had recently joined a new group, and admitted that he had been regularly playing for the past few years. Another friend asked offhandedly if he would Dungeon Master for us. First friend said yes. Then they both turned to me and asked if I would be keen. Mildly curious, I agreed. In those few minutes my geek-life had changed. Now, every week I sit down in a dingy room with six other friends, and we spend all day and into the night, rolling dice, making up nonsense and laughing at our near-constant screw-ups. We are the Worst Adventurers Ever (TM) and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

It is highly possible that you have stumbled along this blog without a clue as to what Dungeons and Dragons is actually about. I understand. Just over a year ago I would be in the same boat. Essentially, you have a Dungeon Master who, by way of the rule books, controls the realm in which you play. You roll up dice to determine your characters attributes – select a name, a race and a class (at least), and follow or not follow quests given to you. The success of your actions, and the actions of those around you, NPC or otherwise, are determined by dice rolls. You fight monsters, gain experience and slowly become the badass of your fantasy.

The group I’m involved in play a version called Labyrinth Lord, which, technically isn’t actually a version of D&D, but rather emulates the rules from the 1981 edition of D&D. Therefore, our talented Dungeon Master does chop and change a few rules from the classic era of D&D into our play of LL, includes some of his own characters and skills, and has written a rather creative book of spells to add to the mage’s arsenal. The combination gives us, the players, a lot of room to swing our arms and make up some utterly ridiculous crap. Now our sessions are famous within the Christchurch geek circle, because apparently there is no one who plays D&D quite like us.

And that is one of the greatest things about how role-playing games have evolved. In video games and generally other table-top games, you are limited to what you can do by a very stringent set of rules. If there isn’t a rule about it, you can generally assume that it shouldn’t be done, otherwise you will somehow cheat the game, and your overall experience will be damaged in the process. Even in huge open-world games such as Skyrim, there is only so far you can travel, and so many actions you can perform. Because all of these actions have been premeditated by a game designer, sitting in his office, testing out the game mechanics. Your actions are hardly original.

Whereas in a good game of D&D, your Dungeon Master (or Game Master) sits at the end of the table with his laptop and several bits of paper – plans for quests and conversations and reward items. But if we do something that he never expected, he cannot tell us ‘not to do that’ and ‘go back to the start.’ Instead he just throws the papers in the air, looks a little bewildered and just starts making shit up on the spot. As you can image, this happens a lot in our games. Once we stopped in the capital city to regroup and regain health, when my slightly unhinged character joined forces with a crazed dwarf, attempted to murder one of the other player characters and his wife, and ended up burning down half the neighbourhood. There went the day.

I guess the point is that everyone plays the game differently, resulting a unique experience every time. Which is why groups of friends (or maybe even just acquaintances) are willing to shove themselves into a room together for hours on end just to throw a bunch of dice around. Some people may just play with a table top, dice, and pencils and paper, commanding their character like a general. Others may paint the figurines, creature scale models of dungeons, require dress-up, and speak in character at all times. Or anything in between.

Dungeons and Dragons is now whatever you make of it. You don’t even have to stick to the stringent rules as set out by the rule books. The world is your oyster, and you can be as creative in your problems and problem-solving as you want to be. Unless you want to stick by the roles and play through by way of optimisation. Whatever floats your boat. Just hopefully, whichever way you want to play, your group is all on the same page.

So find someone who has played Dungeons and Dragons before and convince him to allow you to tag along to his next session. All you need is a pencil and some paper, and a bag of dice (although that could be borrowed). No console is required, no game pieces included. Just sit back and celebrate a piece of geek culture that has been around for nearly half a century, and will likely be with us for half a century more.

Just good luck explaining it to those who play. They just won’t get it.

“I’ve kind of got this thing…”

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